There are no passive bystanders, no actual flies on the wall. Every single person within a group changes the dynamics and direction of the group regardless of the size. Each individual changes the energy and changes the conversation. There is no option of simply being fluff, the innocent bystander, a passive observer. Whether as a witness, an audience member, a main character in the unfolding drama, every single person matters. More than matters, every individual changes the playing field and the manner in which the game is played.
Often the role of the passive bystander is assumed as a shelter from responsibility, a liberation from the need to take on an active role. The posture of the passive bystander may be taken in an attempt to shelter oneself from physical or emotional involvement in what may appear to be a difficult, complex, or unfavorable situation. The role of the passive bystander is often perceived as less risky as it is an attempt to blend in with the crowd, to be lost in a sea of faces, amongst the other bystanders. Whether this is as a physical bystander, such as in a crowded subway or along a busy street, or whether this is as a metaphorical bystander, in drama within the workplace, in relationships within a friend group, in monetary or investment decisions, or in working with a new organization, the role of the passive bystander is often perceived as safe.
Yet in reality, there is no bystander role. For better or for worse, every individual recalibrates the room, changes the energy, momentum, and conversation that is occurring within the room. If there is no safe bystander role, then there is a responsibility incumbent upon each individual to consider how they are actively changing the environment in which they find themselves. On multiple occasions, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has addressed what he looks for in current employees or prospective hires. There is a common theme to what he looks for- do they bring energy and do they bring clarity. In isolation, these characteristics are rather unremarkable, yet finding them in combination is rare. Often those that bring the greatest amount of energy, bring confusion as an unintended side effect. Conversely, those that bring clarity, often do so at the cost of energy. Consider a pop music concert. The excitement that draws enormous crowds is the energy, the electric hum of being surrounded by thousands of people, singing together in a collective experience. Yet the lyrics and message to even the most thoughtful song are difficult to understand and even more difficult to implement into action. There is high energy and yet little clarity. On the opposite side of the spectrum, meditative practice often brings a high degree of calm and clarity but does so at the cost of energy. It is a rare combination to find both clarity and energy in combination. Even more rare yet valuable is finding energy and clarity in combination consistently. To be able to bring clarity and energy to any environment is a unique, carefully cultivated ability that must constantly be monitored, maintained, and reassessed lest one stray to one side or there other as noted above.
If there are no bystanders, every individual in every group must be constantly considering how they are changing the dynamics of that group, whether that be at work, with friends, in the midst of family gatherings, or even in one-on-one meetings. There is no such thing as being along for the ride. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, everyone is always bringing something to the group. How does one’s presence change the dynamics and conversation of the group? How does the energy change when one enters the room? Does clarity increase or decrease. Is one bringing to the group the elements that one is intending to bring, or are there other attributes to which one aspires? If there are no passive bystanders, everyone is an active player.
What do you bring?